A Marriage of Unequals
By TAMAR LEWIN (NYT)
Published: May 19, 2005
NORTHFIELD, Mass. - When Dan Croteau met Cate Woolner six years ago, he was selling cars at the
Keene, N.H., Mitsubishi lot and she was pretending to be a customer, test driving a black Montero while
she and her 11-year-old son, Jonah, waited for their car to be serviced.
The test drive lasted an hour and a half. Jonah got to see how the vehicle performed in off-road mud
puddles. And Mr. Croteau and Ms. Woolner hit it off so well that she later sent him a note, suggesting
that if he was not involved with someone, not a Republican and not an alien life form, maybe they could
meet for coffee. Mr. Croteau dithered about the propriety of dating a customer, but when he finally
responded, they talked on the phone from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
They had a lot in common. Each had two failed marriages and two children. Both love dancing,
motorcycles, Bob Dylan, bad puns, liberal politics and National Public Radio.
But when they began dating, they found differences, too. The religious difference -- he is Roman
Catholic, she is Jewish -- posed no problem. The real gap between them, both say, is more subtle: Mr.
Croteau comes from the working class, and Ms. Woolner from money.
Mr. Croteau, who will be 50 in June, grew up in Keene, an old mill town in southern New Hampshire. His
father was a factory worker whose education ended at the eighth grade; his mother had some factory jobs,
too. Mr. Croteau had a difficult childhood and quit school at 16. He then left home, joined the Navy and
drifted through a long series of jobs without finding any real calling. He married his pregnant 19-year-old
girlfriend and had two daughters, Lael and Maggie, by the time he was 24.
''I was raised in a family where my grandma lived next door, my uncles lived on the next road over, my
dad's two brothers lived next to each other, and I pretty much played with my cousins,'' he said. ''The
whole concept of life was that you should try to get a good job in the factory. My mother tried to
encourage me. She'd say, 'Dan's bright; ask him a question.' But if I'd said I wanted to go to college, it
would have been like saying I wanted to grow gills and breathe underwater.''
He always felt that the rich people in town, ''the ones with their names on the buildings,'' as he put it, lived
in another world.
Ms. Woolner, 54, comes from that other world. The daughter of a doctor and a dancer, she grew up in a
comfortable home in Hartsdale, N.Y., with the summer camps, vacations and college education that
wealthy Westchester County families can take for granted. She was always uncomfortable with her
money; when she came into a modest inheritance at 21, she ignored the monthly bank statements for
several years, until she learned to channel her unease into philanthropy benefiting social causes. She was
in her mid-30's and married to a psychotherapist when Isaac and Jonah were born.
''My mother's father had a Rolls-Royce and a butler and a second home in Florida,'' Ms. Woolner said,